Story by Kurt Ernst. Photos by Mathieu Heurtault, courtesy Gooding & Company
Introduced to the Can-Am series in 1973, the Porsche 917/30 was the ultimate evolution of the storied Porsche 917 model range. With a wind tunnel-tested spyder body and an air-cooled, twin-turbo, flat-12 engine, its acceleration was as impressive as its 240 MPH top speed. In March of 2012 the 917/30 carrying chassis tag 004 crossed the block in Amelia Island, selling for $4.4 million and setting a record for a Porsche model at auction. Next month, Gooding & Company will again offer the car, one of six 917/30s ever built, for sale at Amelia Island as part of the Jerry Seinfeld collection.
The predecessor to the 917/30, Porsche’s 917/10 dominated the 1972 Can-Am season, winning six of the season’s nine races and delivering podium finishes in eight events. If anything, the car’s performance may be understated, as star Penske driver Mark Donohue sat out four events after suffering a broken left leg in a 917/10 testing crash. As good as the car was, however, Porsche and Penske both believed there was room for improvement, and in time for the 1973 season, this came in the form of the 917/30.
The 917/30 used a larger 5.4-liter flat-12 engine, equipped with twin KKK turbochargers and reportedly dyno tested at as much as 1,500 horsepower (though for reliability reasons, boost was often dialed back in race trim to a produce a modest 1,100 horsepower). The car’s wheelbase was lengthened, too, allowing for additional fuel capacity, and suspension components (such as the lower wishbones) were strengthened to cope with the car’s new capabilities. An all-new, low drag body was fitted, and in testing, the 917/30 was reported to run from 0-60 MPH in 2.1 seconds, break 100 MPH in 3.9 seconds, and hit the 200 MPH mark in 13.4 seconds.
Related: Vic Elford, on driving the Porsche 917.
That isn’t to say the car came without a learning curve. At the 917/30’s first race, Can-Am Mosport in June of 1973, Mark Donohue set the fastest lap but had to settle for a seventh-place finish. At the next round, Road Atlanta, Donohue once again set the fastest lap but achieved a second-place finish, behind an ex-Penske Racing 917/10. Things would change at Watkins Glen, where the 917/30, with Donohue at the wheel, once again set the fastest lap but went on to take the win. For the season’s remaining five races, it was the same story –Donohue, and his Penske Racing 917/30, simply dominated the competition.
Plans were underway to bring in a new 917/30 (chassis 004) for Donahue in 1974, but Can-Am rule changes for the 1974 season brought an end to this, and ultimately, to the 917/30. Thanks to the worldwide energy crisis of 1973, the 917/30 would have been limited to 73 gallons of fuel for a 200-mile race in 1974, forcing the car to achieve a fuel economy of 2.74 MPG. Doing so would have rendered the 917/30 noncompetitive, so at the end of the 1973 season both Penske and Porsche withdrew from the series (although Brian Redman did drive a Penske Porsche at the Mid-Ohio Can-Am race in 1974). The car’s last real moment in the sun came in August of 1975, when Donohue drove a specially prepared 917/30 to a closed-course speed record of 221.160 MPH at Talladega, verifying the car’s 240 MPH top speed. Less than a week later, Donohue would die of a cerebral hemorrhage following a Formula One practice accident in Austria.
With its participation in Can-Am over, Porsche sold chassis 917/30-004 to Australian importer Alan Hamilton, who kept the car in his Melbourne showroom. Exercised in local historic races, the car remained in Australia until 1991, when a buyout of independent Porsche dealers returned the car to Stuttgart. Under Porsche’s care, the body-in-white car was painted in the most familiar of liveries – the blue, yellow and red used by the Sunoco-sponsored Penske team in 1973.
Porsche retained possession of 004 until 1994, exhibiting the car and running it at special events such as the 1992 Old Timer Grand Prix, held at the Nürburgring. In January of 1994 it was sold to American collector David Morse, but before delivery Porsche rebuilt the 917/30’s 5.4-liter flat-12, using the last remaining engine block in inventory. Morse immediately restored the rest of the car, and it made its North American public debut at the 1998 Monterey Historics.
In 2001 the car was sold to noted Porsche collector Matthew Drendel, who exhibited the car at the very first Rennsport Reunion, held at Lime Rock in July of 2001. Sadly, Drendel, then just 35 years old, died in November 2010, and his Porsche collection, including 917/30-004, was auctioned off at Amelia Island in March of 2012. There, the historic Porsche sold for a fee-inclusive price of $4.4 million (to Jerry Seinfeld), setting a record for the most expensive Porsche sold at auction.
Records are meant to be broken, and in August of 2012 a 917/10 once raced by Mark Donohue crossed the block in Monterey, selling for a fee-inclusive price of $5.83 million and displacing 917/30-004 from the top of the list. In August of 2015, a Le Mans-winning Porsche 956 was sold by Gooding & Company at Pebble Beach for $10.12 million, establishing the current record for a Porsche sold at auction. Gooding & Company has yet to release a pre-auction estimate for 917/30-004, but it’s a safe bet that, given its provenance and past ownership, the final price will exceed the $4.4 million realized in 2012.
For additional details on the Amelia Island sale, including additional lots in the Jerry Seinfeld Collection, visit GoodingCo.com.